Mimi saw her sisters a good amount of times since they had been married, but it seemed to her that Catharine was always busy and Madeleine wanted nothing to do with them. It was lonely for her to be the only daughter left at home. Nine months after Madeleine’s wedding, Mimi went into Rouen to visit her sister.
It was a mild morning in March, and bright, cool, sunlight shone in through a large window in James and Madeleine’s flat and made the white walls look radiant. Madeleine was seated at the table and watched the street below.
“Nice to see you,” she said when Mimi came through the door.
“You look very well,” Mimi answered.
“You haven’t seen Jamie, have you? He’s been gone since last night.”
“No I haven’t. Why, is something the matter?”
“We had an argument last night, over something stupid really. He’s been upset because he doesn’t want to go the baptism of Catharine’s new daughter. I said that I didn’t really want to go myself but we had a family duty to go. Somehow it escalated from there; he accused me of flirting with other men at parties. I said he was crazy and he hit me.”
“Good Lord! Did you hit him back?”
“Of course. I said that if he was going to behave like that, I was going to give it right back to him.”
“Good, it sounded like he deserved it.”
“Mostly I felt sorry for him because he didn’t have any better way to say what he wanted to. I can tell he’s afraid that I think I degraded myself by marrying him and is frustrated that he can’t give me something as good as what he took me from.”
“What a man, hitting his wife because he’s afraid and frustrated. If he’s going to behave that way towards you, perhaps you’re better off without him.”
The previous month, Catharine had given birth to a daughter. She and Georges were disappointed because they had been hoping for a boy. Catharine did not show much interest in her new born, saying “I guess she’s doing very well, the nurse is taking good care of her,” whenever she was asked about her daughter. When she had recovered from the birth, she went to call upon her sister Madeleine, simply out of curiosity, only to run into her brother in law outside stumbling his way home looking tired and disheveled like he had been out all night. She asked the chauffeur to stop the car and pick him up.
“I know what’s going on,” she told him.
“What is it?” He answered back in a rather surly way.
“You’ve been married for nine months and you’re sick of it.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Madeleine will be wondering where you are. No doubt seeing you in the state you’re in will upset her and she’ll say things that’ll make you angry. And in the state you’re in, that shouldn’t be too hard. Madeleine can be dreadfully infuriating sometimes.”
“Only you could be so spiteful. As if I could ever hurt a sweet little thing like Madeleine. We had an argument last night, she was right, I lost my temper and I don’t know what came over me. I feel terrible about it.”
The first year of James’s marriage to Madeleine had not been easy for him. Not that he did not love her or that she was hard to get on with but because her family was watching him and expecting him to fail. They all whispered that she should not have married him and that she had lowered himself by doing so.
James especially hated all of the prancing peacocks with flowery and overly love names who showed up at Chateau Aubrey, trussed up in their starchy tuxedos and lavishing hand kisses and sappy compliments gleamed from the latest novel on unsuspecting women. It seemed perfectly acceptable in France for a man to be gallant towards another’s wife; certainly no American would ever behave this way. In New York, men were stabbed for less. Madeleine, bless her heart, was pretty enough to attract admiration but not self confident enough to be impervious to flattery. She gave him no reason to suspect that she felt any dissatisfaction with him but he often projected his frustrations onto her and caused him to sometimes behave shamefully towards her.
“See I was right. Listen, if she’s getting on your nerves, why don’t you leave her. There’s no use terrorizing the poor thing. Maybe she’s just as eager to get rid of you.”
“I’ve always thought a couple of good slugs was exactly what you needed.”
The car brought them to where he and Madeleine were living.
“Look at the stray dog I picked up off the side of the road,” she had said to her sister when returned her husband to her.
What made this even more humiliating was the spiteful glee Catharine took in the situation, and he was in just as bad a state when he arrived home as when he had left. His goodbye to Catharine was “you nasty hag” (at twenty-eight Catharine was beginning to be sensitive to the fact that she was not as young as she used to be.)
Madeleine hovered around him when he came in.
“Go on, say it,” he told her, “I’ve been out all night, I just insulted your sister…”
“Do you think I care if anyone insults Catharine?” She answered, “I’m just glad your back.”
She brought him some coffee and some omelette and then sat down beside him, saying that she had something to tell him.
“Mimi dropped by this morning,” she began, “and I told her that I’d would visit this afternoon.”
“Well, I have an important announcement to make and I felt that I should tell you first because it concerns you more than anyone else. I’ve had my suspicions for some weeks now but I went to a doctor a couple days ago and he confirmed it. We’re going to have a baby.”
“Oh Mado,” he reached over and took her into his arms, “I’m not squeezing you too hard am I?”
“No, you’re fine. You don’t have to go to Catharine’s daughter’s baptism if you don’t want to.”
“I’ll go, I go,” he said stroking the back of her head.
That afternoon, Madeleine made good on her promise to visit her family. While she was gone, he went for a walk to make sense of the news that he was to be a father. He imagined a hazel eyed, freckle faced little boy who would grow up to look like him but hopefully without any of his faults. Or perhaps a lovely little girl with ribbons in her hair who would become just like her mother. A boy would need to be set a good example and a girl would need to be petted and protected.
“When will the baby be born?” he asked her when she returned home.
“In the autumn,” she responded.
New York City- February, 1899
The crown jewel of the Bowery circa 1899 was a vaudeville theater called Gaiety Hall. Its star was Ada Amsel, known as the German Blackbird, who was celebrate for having the sweetest voice and the most racy songs in all of New York. Ada was an old family friend of Laurie’s, having had a brief and regretted dalliance with his father years ago. She had been the one who discovered Laurie’s talents for drawing and painting and sometimes gave him work designing backdrops for her theater. Jimmy often came along with him. He loved the world of the backstage; it was colorful, glamorous and exciting: everything the factory was not. The showgirls doted on him, often getting Toby, the candyman, to give him freebees. He could often make a little bit of money running errands for the stagehands. Ada always let him and Laurie watch her shows for free. This was one of the biggest treats in Jimmy’s life; he would always walk out singing one of the songs in his piping little boy voice.
On cold sunday afternoon in February, Jimmy loitered around backstage watching Laurie paint a backdrop of a jungle. The backstage door opened, and a red headed girl carrying a sewing basket walked in.
“Excuse me,” she said to Jimmy, her voice was musical and lilting, “I’m looking for Miss Cora, I was told to speak to her about a job.”
“I’ll go look for her,” Jimmy answered.
“Why thank you, young man,” she winked at him.
Jimmy dashed off to find Miss Cora, the costume lady. While she waited, the redhead walked over to admire the backdrop that Laurie was working on.
Laurie, in turn, admired her. She was small and dainty, with the tiny, nipped waist and exaggerated s-shaped curves which were highly desirable at the time. Her red-gold hair was arranged in the delicate puffs of a fashionable pompadour. By the standards of Lower Manhattan, she was well dressed in a blue frock that complimented the color of her large eyes. A delicate little head was perched up an elegant neck; a full, rosy, and impudent mouth smiled back at him.
“It almost looks real,” she said to him, referring to his jungle backdrop.
“Is that supposed to a compliment?” Laurie answered.
“Can I help you with anything, Miss…?”
“Rosa, Rosa Murray.”
“Lawrence Brady and the pleasure’s all mine”
“You little friend went to find the costume woman for me. I’m here look for work as a seamstress.”
“Well I wish you luck.”
“I can tell by your voice, you’re Irish. Where in Ireland is your family from?”
“Strabane, in County Tyrone.”
“My oldman came from Belfast.”
“Is that so?”
“When I die and go to heaven, the first thing I want to hear when I pass through the pearly gates is you saying “is that so” in your lovely brogue.”
Rosa blushed and giggled coquettishly.
Over the next few days, Laurie asked around about Rosa Murray. It turned out that she had married a man named Will Murray, her childhood sweetheart, the previous November.